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The Pegasus Becomes an International Club 1964

August 1964 was not only a special date in the history of the club when the attack on the world depth record in the Gouffre Berger was defeated by the weather as the lower regions of the cave were flooded and impassable. But we came to fame by the finding of Pegasus Bridge a new cave section that proved our theory that a fossilised passage above the current river gallery could in fact lead a way over the terminal syphon and hence to the link with the Vats of Sassanage.

The French Pothole Associates were so impressed by our finding of this new section that when we applied to go back in 1965 they had closed the cave to all but the French in a hope to find the continuation of Pegasus Bridge themselves. They did however allow us to go back to a nearby mountain range to explore a cave called Deux Soeurs, a very low crawling cave system who’s frost shattered avens were so dangerous it would be suicide to talk in a loud voice. We abandoned the exploration in favour of a visit to La Berade where we climbed a 12,000 foot mountain called Pic Coolidge.

On our arrival in August 1964 at the Sornin Plateaux where we camped for the record attempt we were met by a very friendly Belgian caving team who had been in the cave earlier. The club was called the Groupe D’activitie de Speologie de Belgique (GAS), their leader was a man called Etienne Lemaire who over the years became more than just a very good friend. He told us he had always wanted to come over to England as he had heard of the splendid caving especially in the Yorkshire areas.

We invited him over and he reciprocated by asking us over to Belgium, however we replied that at the time we were not allowed to bring more than £50 out of the country so exchange may not be possible. He told us that as all sport in Belgium was sponsored if we joined them we could go on trips that were heavily subsidised and if we made the journey they would feed and house us once we got there. This was the start of a great relationship and we made dozens of trips together over the ensuing years these included a 4 week trip to Tunisia that was a trip involving 5 Belgians, 2 Italians, 1 South African and 3 Brits, those being Alan Harrison, John Fisk and Barrie Parker. 

As this trip was sponsored we had certain tasks to carry out for the Leuvan University and involved catching bats and placing laboratory mice on cave floors to breath in the dusts that were thought to have heavily influenced two diseases prevalent in North Africa (Histoplasmosis and Schistosomiasis). Notes on this trip are detailed separately.

However most of the time we were engaged in trying to keep the mice alive and away from the wild mountain cats who had the opposite ideas.

The second five week trip was to Iceland with object of crossing the Vatnajokull ice cap to the volcanic centre called Grimsvotn.

This trip was again subsidised by the Belgians and our task this time was to photograph the Fan Moraines and involved Etienne Lemaire, Alan Wicks, Alan Eaves, Ian Curphey and Barrie Parker.

We managed to get to Grimsvotn but had picked the wrong time of year and as we were carrying over 60 lbs per man we went deep into the snow at every step up to our knees. Although we had chosen the wrong time to go it could have been worse as approximately 5 years ago Grimsvotn exploded and melted part of the icecap sending ice bergs bigger than houses down the melt-water river and these demolished the newly erected bridges across the Skeidararsandur melt-water plain at the cost of millions of pounds.

Whilst we were there we also climbed a semi-active volcano called Mount Hekla and again approximately 16 years ago it erupted causing a great deal of damage and 5 years ago it started rumbling again. Notes on this trip are detailed separately. 

As well as caving we had many social events with GAS the most memorable being a Christmas event in the Ardennes when a group of approximately 30 of 6 different nationalities were present at a party in a large chalet.

The Belgians were a great group to cave with and when in their country were extremely hospitable. Unfortunately about twenty years ago Etienne lost his best friend Daniel Amey, cave diving in the Grottos of Han and I don’t think he ever got over it.

On 7th December 2004 Etienne gave up his long struggle with cancer but he will not only be remembered as a great caver, climber, diver and explorer but also for his fantastic linguistic skills as he spoke over 9 different languages and often at the same time in mixed groups.

Despite our association over the years, as the Belgians liked to speak English when we were together we did not improve either our French or our Flemish, something I would regret at a later time when I was seconded to Europe.

Barrie Parker 2016

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